Archive for June, 2011

4 “Classic” Civics

Posted: June 24, 2011 in My Cars
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I like to think of myself as something of a Honda Civic connoisseur.  I mean, I’ve had 5 of them.  But these 4 are of the much sought after vintage.  Yes, these pedestrian little cars are now much sought after, particularly due to their low weight and ability to swallow much more powerful engines with little fuss.  More importantly, these cars had the wonderful double wishbone suspension, done away with by Honda due to cost – at great expense to handling ability.  Of course, finding one of these rust free is nearly impossible up where I live.  So, lets start our journey.

First up is my 1997 Honda Civic DX hatchback.

I purchased this car from the dealership where I was working as a companion to my GSX.  Where my GSX was lucky to score 20 mpg, this thing easily returned 40 mpg in mixed driving – and it never needed to go into the shop for tuning or fixing.  Impressive fuel economy for a stock car, especially considering the manufacturers today still can’t do that without a hybrid.  Yes, they’ll hit 40 on the highway – but this was an honest 40 in mixed driving all the damned time.  The formula was so simple – light weight, few accessories, small engine, good gearing.

I kept this car stock.  It was low mileage (under 60,000), in pristine condition, and rust free.  It was purple.  It wasn’t the most inspiring car to drive, but it never failed me.  Honestly, it had very little get up and go, and the handling was not spectacular – although I would find out later that making these cars handle or go is incredibly easy.

Maintenance was simple, nothing broke, and efficiency was high.  You could fit a ton of crap in the car as well.  As a commuter from Virginia into DC I could ask for little else.  Plus, I never really worried about parking incidents.  I sold this car to a friend of a friend for nearly what I paid for it, and in hindsight I should NEVER have let it go.

My next foray into Hondas came a few cars later when, once again, I required a reliable, steady and stable vehicle as a complement to my completely unreliable and inefficient toy of the week (turbocharged RX-8).

This time around I sprung for a fully loaded 1998 EX Coupe that I found on eBay.  Just like the hatch, this car had a 1.6L SOHC engine, except this one came with VTEC!  Unfortunately, it was no faster than my hatch simply because it was an EX – power windows, sunroof, power steering, air conditioning – quite a luxurious little thing compared to the hatch but the extra 300 lbs or so meant the additional 19 horsepower were quickly soaked up by the pork.  Fuel economy suffered as well.  Not by much – it would still do 40s on the highway, but around town we were looking at mid 30s instead.  I’m not really sure why I sold this car either – maybe I got bored with it, maybe I have automotive schizophrenia?  All I know is that I kept this car stock as well, and once again, it never failed me.

My next Civic I decided I was not going to leave stock.  I also gave my plan for the build a name – Project eBay.

Project eBay started with a completely clean, totally rust free cherry 1994 Honda Civic DX hatchback.  Picking it up, the car felt slow, handled poorly and was overall a dog to drive, especially since this vintage merely had the 1.5L SOHC instead of my previous DX Hatch’s 1.6L engine.  I purchased the car over eBay for $1,500 – and the rules being that everything on the car had to come from eBay.

I pretty much stuck by the rules with the car, and proceeded to immediately make the following modifications:

-16″ x 7″ Nippon Racing F-2 (15 lbs each)  wheelswith 205 Kumho Ecsta ASX all season tires.
-Dropzone coilovers
-Tsudo N1 stainless steel fartcannon exhaust
-no name  stainless steel header
-no name hign flow stainless steel catalytic converter
-APC/cold air intake – I used flexible plastic piping and snorkeled it down into the fender well, and cut a hole in where the fog lights would go so it got fresh, cold air.
-no name rear lower tie bar
-no name front upper strut bar
-no name “JDM” Type-R knock-off shift knob – this actually added weight to the shifts and was a nice touch.

I also had a Type-R rear swaybar but never got around to installing it.

The modifications completely transformed this car – it went from a sluggish, roly poly turd into quite a fun thing to drive – it handled wonderfully with plenty of grip, even with those cheap crappy tires.  It even was reasonably quick given that it had such a low weight – not fast enough to thrill but quick enough to entertain.  And yes, it returned 40+ mpg in mixed driving, religiously, with no break downs or issues whatsoever.

I sold this car to my wife’s brother (including the sway bar).  He then took off where I left off, swapping in a 1.6L single-cam VTEC motor. It was then stolen in the Summer of 2008, totally stripped and found dead on the side of the road. The New York City Department of Sanitation then removed it from the side of the road and crushed it before it could be claimed.  That’s right.  They crushed a totally clean, rust free shell that was probably worth more than all of the parts that had been put into it and stolen.

Of all the cars I have owned, this is one that I miss most.  It was that much fun.  My wife even gave it a name, “Stitch” – after the Disney character, because like him it was small, blue, and fiesty.

My last “classic” Civic was something much more extreme than any of the cars before it.

I purchased this car after moving up to Rochester.  At the time, my only car was a 2006 BMW Z4 – hardly the daily driving sort of car.  Going with what I knew, I started my search for a nice, clean Civic.  Instead, I was lured away by a swapped car, with rust.  Lots and lots of rust.  I ignored that because in place of the regular 1.5L 102 horsepower engine was a 1.8L DOHC VTEC engine from an Integra GS-R, modified and pumping out around 200 horsepower through a close ratio hydraulic transmission from a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Civic Type R – all in a base-model car that weighed in around 2000 lbs.

Yes, it was faster than my Z4.

Other changes included:

-ACT Stage 1 Clutch
-Fidanza Aluminum Flywheel
-AEM Short-Ram Intake
-Apex’i World Sport 2 Cat-Back Exhaust (so quiet)
-BMW X5 HID Headlights
-GS-R Shift Knob
-all sorts of aftermarket stereo crap that I don’t know about / care about
-M3 rear lip / Honda factory front lip
-Stainless steel header and cat from eBay
-Powerslot rotors
-A whole new front suspension
-FastTurbo ECU tune

This car had some rust, did I mention that?  As in I could put my fist through the rear quarter panel.  Probably helped with the weight reduction.  It needed a complete new front suspension because THAT had started rusting.  I needed to replace the gas tank.  Other than that, it was relatively reliable – although fuel economy was in the mid-20s in mixed driving – the price you pay for power.

In the end, I sold the car to get something a  little tamer.  It was like driving a wild bronco – the car always wanted to run and I didn’t want to keep dumping money into reviving the suspension or dealing with body rot.  More importantly, my wife needed to learn how to drive and she wasn’t having any of that in this car.

That wraps up my “classic” Civic experience.  I always lust for another one – maybe a nice late 90s Coupe done up cleanly, or even a Del Sol?  I’d even consider an Integra.  I don’t know what time will bring, but I’ve thus far been unable to find a clean car without rust, which has been one of the major sources behind my shift to European cars (galvanized/ionized).  All I can say is that Honda has definitely lost their way – their cars are nowhere near this much fun, and nowhere near this efficient.  I blame it on weight gain, feature bloat, and of course, the loss of the double-wishbone suspension setup.

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1993 Mazda RX-7

Posted: June 9, 2011 in My Cars
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Alright – now we’re getting to the big guns.  As with many of my older cars, the photographs have essentially been lost to history due to the destruction of many of my former hosting sites and the progress of the internet.  Alas, I do have one photo of this bad boy with the original 3-piece wheels.


My inspiration for this purchase was simple – my GSX had plenty of power but handled like a drunken walrus.  My Celica has razor sharp handling but a gutless engine, and suffered from FWD maladies.  After driving my roommate’s Miata I knew I had to have light weight, rear wheel drive, and lightning reflex handling, but I wasn’t willing to give up that turbocharged surge of power.  Boy did I ever find that power right here.

The car was being sold by a “contractor” (this is DC Metro area speak for government employee of a three-letter-agency) who was getting married.  His fiancee was the instrument behind the sale.  I managed to steal the car from him for a pittance.  It had originally been built for track use, although it was still street legal and I ensured that it saw plenty of street activity.

What can be said about this car other than the fact that it actively tried to kill me.  Upon taking delivery I immediately floored the throttle with the steering wheel slightly turned coming out of a turn.  The ensuing explosion of torque as the turbo wound up broke the 265 rear tires loose as if they were 185s and sent the tail wagging.  Luckily, the car was so perfectly balanced and poised I was able to recover easily – this is no testament to my driving skill or lack thereof – in fact, I had little if any driving skill at this point.  Rather, it speaks to the wonderful engineering behind the development and placement of the rotary engine in this car.

Built to the hilt, this engine had a gargantuan GT35/40R hybrid setup with dual ball bearings for near instantaneous response – the best part of it all was the transient response and linearity of power delivery.  Coupled with a fully rebuilt KD Rotary engine with 3mm apex seals, a street port job (think of this as cams for a rotary engine) and 1250cc injectors blasting fuel supplied from a Supra fuel pump, the car boogied.  It had the usual “safety” mods as well, like an upgraded cooling system and front mount intercooler, as well as the KD Rotary anti detonation modification to preserve those fragile apex seals, a full gauge package, a Blitz blow off valve to save the turbo (and provide the cool PSHHH sound) and a fully tuned APEX’i PowerFC to control everything.

But the power wasn’t what this car was about – it was the poise.  The previous owner had spared no expense, installing enormous 6-piston Wilwood brakes and APEX’i N1 coilovers – serious hardware with a 1000 lb spring rate and upper pillow ball mounts for filling jarring ride comfort.  Suffice to say, cruising through pothole filled Georgetown the car might have looked cool, but the passengers were suffering.

The car had some nifty extra touches – the original owner got rid of the pop up headlights and replaced them with projector style – I personally love the old pop up style headlights on any car, but I do understand the aerodynamic benefits to having a smooth, integrated headlight.  Also, the owner installed a very rare JDM back seat for his dogs.  I spent plenty of time vacuuming their hair up.  There’s no way a human would have fit back there – in fact, we tried once – it just wasn’t going to work.  The car also came equipped with two nice Recaro racing seats, though no harnesses.  Finally, it had that oh so sweet ventilated carbon fiber hood.

Originally, the car came with some Centerline three-piece forged wheels.  I had no idea how valuable these were and let them go for a pittance, replacing them with something much larger in the hopes of taming the massive amount of power the car generated.  Unfortunately, even with the stickiest rubber outside of DOT R-compounds (at the time), I couldn’t manage to tame the beast.  Unless you were in a high gear with the car pointed straight ahead, it would wiggle.  In fact, I remember when I sold this car the potential purchaser (a hick who flew in from Kentucky) actually got the rear squirrely on the highway in 3rd gear.

Why would I sell this car, you would ask?  Aside from the fact that I get bored quickly?  It was phenomenal to drive, but it was also a dump.  While mechanically the car was bulletproof it had some serious issues with the body, electrical, and interior.  It was a mid-90s Japanese car after all – not built to the highest standards like something from Germany, and it showed very clearly that it was built with economy in mind – that’s why they cost half of what a 911 does.  The net result?  As of this writing I own a  30 year old 1981 Porsche 911  in dramatically better shape than this car, which was roughly 10 years old at the time of my ownership.  They simply were not built to last.  And alas, I had to get rid of it.

The kid who bought it had fond dreams in his eyes, just as I did when I first purchased it.  All I could think of when he paid me (more than I purchased it for) was good riddance, and on to the next toy.

Ethanol is the Devil

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Rants
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Yeah, I said it.  Fuck Ethanol.  That stuff is a terrible terrible idea.  And I’m going to tell you why.

First off, ethanol is inefficient.  I’ll defeat the pro-ethanol efficiency argument right now – the argument for it is that the higher octane rating (about 104 octane for E85).  That’s all well and good if you’re running a car with extremely high compression, advanced timing, or lots of boost.  Unfortunately, most flex fuel vehicles don’t take advantage of this.  The reality is that ethanol has far less power than gasoline.

A gallon of E85 has an energy content of about 80,000 BTU, compared to gasoline’s 124,800 BTU, so you would need approximately 1.56 gallons of E85 to travel the same distance as you could on 1 gallon of gasoline, by the calculations.  The reality is that vehicles optimized for E85 don’t get quite as horrible fuel economy, but close.  The rule of thumb is that ethanol has about 70% of the fuel economy of normal gasoline.

But, you say, its cheaper than regular gas?  Really?  Not when you take into account the lower fuel economy.  In fact, recent testing indicated that running ethanol could result in costs that were 22.8% MORE than running gasoline, simply due to the fact that ethanol was cheaper, but not cheap enough to make up for its lack in energy content.

Now, you argue, so what – I’m willing to live with that just like some people are willing to pay a premium for a hybrid or electric car, even when the cost of purchase far exceeds the gas savings an average consumer would see.  There are further drawbacks.

First, its terrible for older vehicles.  Alcohol is a corrosive solvent; anything exposed to ethanol must be made of corrosion-resistant materials.  Now, E10 doesn’t seem to pose a huge problem to classic cars.  However, as ethanol content increases, so will the stress on parts that weren’t designed to run the fuel.  In fact, the Senate proposed a bill to switch from mandatory E10 up to E15.  Now, obviously, this was a push by the corn lobby as a way to get rid of their surplus ethanol which the consumer has clearly rejected.  In a free market, they would not need to mandate ethanol – we could simply have pumps that dispense E85, E10, E15, or pure gasoline in various grades and let the marketplace speak – in reality, the marketplace has spoken an uniformly rejected E85, and I suspect that the marketplace would overwhelmingly choose pure gasoline over E10 (which has resulted in diminished fuel economy even as we legislate improved fuel economy).  If E15 becomes a reality, the collector car enthusiast will be required to replace their fuel filter, fuel lines, carbs, and potentially even upgrade their fuel system to pump more fuel so that the car can receive enough energy, due to the diminished power of ethanol infused fuels.

Furthermore, ethanol is terrible for the environment.  Growing corn is an intensive process that requires pesticides, fertilizer, heavy equipment and transport.  Any of the clean air/carbon savings are getting eaten up in this process, even if it is reducing dependence on foreign oil.  Commercial Farming accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and 41% of that is directly attributed to agricultural production.   One just needs to take a look at the dead zone at the end of the Mississippi River Delta Dead Zone to see the effects of industrialized farming run off on the environment.

Satellite image of the northern Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi Delta showing hypoxic coastal water (light blue). This color change is due to excessive nutrients being washed into the sea.

Finally, ecological devastation aside, ethanol production has had a significant impact on food prices.  First, think about crop displacement.  A single acre of corn has the potential to produce 300 gallons of ethanol per growing season. So, in order to replace a small percentage of petroleum product usage, American farmers would need to dedicate more than 675 million acres, (over 70 percent) of the nation’s 938 million acres of farmland, to growing feedstock.  Second, the reality is here – 24% of the United States corn crop is mandated to go to the production of Ethanol (no doubt a result of politicians rewarding support from their constituents).  The result?  Corn prices have almost doubled, from $3.49 a bushel in July 2010 to $6.10 in January 2011.

So there, I said it.  I’d rather have dependence on foreign oil.  Even if the US only gets 48% of its oil from foreign sources.  Until a real, viable alternative energy source exists I’ll take the lesser of two evils.

What is there to say about this car?  Yet another one who’s glory is lost to crashed computers and closed websites.  All I can present is this one remaining photo.

This was the car I purchased after I totalled my Celica.  It had all the boxes checked – lowered, way more power, and most importantly – a turbo.  To a young aspiring ricer, nothing is more necessary than the WHZZZZZ-PSHHhhhh of a turbo spooling and the blowoff valve venting in between shifts.  What an experience.  Watching the needle on the boost gauge flick up and down.  The way that a turbo delivers torque is also fantastic – a surge of power followed by a flat torque curve.  Once I changed the cams in this car it didn’t spool up quite as fast, but it pulled like no other to redline.  This car pushed about 340 horsepower until I blew the compression in one of the cylinders – I’m not really sure what the problem was as I simply sold it running like shit to some dumb kid in high school intent on racing Camaros – for just as much as I paid for it.

Another fantastic feature was the incredibly rare RS-R exhaust – unlike most other fart cannons out there it had a mature, relatively small tip at the end of the 3″ piping and it made wonderful noises – a sporty growl as opposed to an obnoxious rumble.  Not that I heard it much, the car had some insane 3-sub sound system that would make your ears bleed without much effort.

Alas, while the power was intoxicating the handling left a lot to be desired.  Sure, it had improved bushings and some minor suspension modifications, but this was before the EVO was in America and as such the AWD system was heavily biased towards plowing.  It was a fantastic tool for delivery power on the Washington, D.C. streets but the added weight up front was a detriment to the handling, resulting in a nose-heavy push.  The revelatory moment came for me when I drove my friend’s stock Miata on my normal late-night road – where this car would push 65-70 mph the Miata would hold on all the way up to 80 mph and keep going.  At that point I “got it” – what so many people don’t get with cars designed for sharp handling over all out power.

I became intent on selling the car, and I managed to sell it right about the time the boost caused enough damage in the engine to cause low compression in cylinder #3.

Modifications List# Ported EVO 16G Turbo
# Ported EVO O2 housing
# Ported Exhaust Manifold
# Walboro 255lph fuel pump
# FIC 550cc injectors
# GReddy Front Mount Intercooler
# APEXi S-AFC
# APEXi Turbo Timer
# Magnacore wires
# TurboXS Blow Off Valve
# Extreme Motorsports Manual Boost Controller at 18 psi
# Dejon Intake + K&N filter
# GReddy Hard Upper Intercooler Pipes
# Extreme Motorsports 3″ Downpipe
# Extreme Motorsports 3″ Hi-Flow Catalytic Converter
# RS-R 3″ mandrel bent exhaust
# HKS 264 Intake Camshaft
# HKS 272 Exhaust Camshaft
# B&M Short Shifter
# Razo 400 Series Shift Knob
# Clutch Master 2500lb Pressure Plate, Stage 1 Disc
# Lightened OEM flywheel (15lbs)
# Energy Suspension Polyeurethane Motor Mount Inserts
# Autometer boost guage
# GReddy EGT guage
# Autometer bezel gauge pod on steering wheel
# Front/Rear strut tower braces
# Tokico Illumina 5 way adjustable shocks
# Eibach Pro-Kit springs
# Rear Camber kit
# Toyo Proxes TPT 215/50/R17 Tires
# Injen Chrome plug cover
# Repco/Axxis Metal Master Brake Pads
# Alpine 7949 head unit
# Alpine ERA-G320 Equalizer
# Alpine 12-disc CD changer
# Alpine 3555 AMP
# Rockford Fosgate Punch 200.2 AMP
# MBQuart 218.03 SX Speakers (front)
# MBQuart Speakers (rear)
# 3 JL Audio JLAVS308W6 Subs (3 in a sealed box)
# Alpine Alarm